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 Posted Monday, February 4, 2002

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Volume 94, December 2001


Attitudes to torture

DEREK Summerfield in his review of The Medical Profession und Human Rights (August 2001 JRSM, pp. 420-421), uses your respected journal as a forum for his own agenda of hate. As I understand it, Dr Summerfield was not present when Professor Dolev allegedly made the statement attributed to him. It is unclear to me on what basis Dr Summerfield allows himself the liberty to cast aspersions on the former head of the IMA [Israel Medical Association] ethics committee by attributing to him such a statement, which Professor Dolev vehemently denies having made.

Dr Summerfield's calumnies, and particularly his decision to publish them in a journal such as yours, lead us to believe that he is less interested in advancing human rights and more interested in slandering and condemning Professor Dolev, the IMA ethics committee and the State of Israel.

We would expect a journal of your calibre to check the facts before you allow them to be printed, and not allow your publication, a medical and not political journal, to be used as a forum for the spewing of lies and vilification.

Yoram Blachar
Israel Medical Association,
PO Box 3604
Ramat-Gan 52136. Israel

Author's reply

A FOUR-member delegation of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, London (Helen Bamber, Rami Heilbronn, Dr Duncan Forrest, Dr Elizabeth Gordon) can attest that during an interview on 25 November 1999 Professor Dolev said to them that 'a couple of broken fingers' during the interrogation of Palestinian men was a price worth paying for information. Professor Dolev was then the Head of Ethics of the Israel Medical Association (IMA).

This was a moment of honesty which crystallized a position that campaigners had long inferred from the IMA's inactivity on the issue of state torture and the everyday collusion of doctors in the units where this took place. Dr Forrest recorded Professor Dolev's admission last year in a paper in an Amnesty International publication[1].

The tone and substance of Dr Blachar's letter is sadly familiar to those who have attempted to engage the IMA on these issues over the years: the standard response (when one can be elicited) is that we are motivated by anti-Israeli, and by implication anti-semitic, sentiments.

It is worth noting that, in the paper referred to above, Dr Forrest also cited a letter by Dr Blachar in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz of I 5 November 1999. In it Dr Blachar failed to categorize 'moderate physical pressure' as torture (which all human rights organizations have long since condemned as the official euphemism for torture in Israel) and suggested that this might be a suitable response in a 'ticking bomb situation' (his words).

This, then, is the quality of ethical leadership available to Israeli doctors. The case against the IMA is the most exhaustively documented of any since that brought fruitfully to bear against the Medical Association of South Africa during the apartheid era.

Derek Summerfield
South London and Maudsley NHS Trust,
London SE1 1JJ, UK



1: Forrest D., "Moderate Physical Pressure" in Israel. Newsl. Med Group Amnesty Int (UK) 2000; 12 (1):l -2

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